The United States women's Olympic Team has one goal in mind entering the 2014 Sochi Games.
"You don't train this hard for second place; gold has been on our minds since Day 1," U.S. women's Olympic captain Meghan Duggan said Wednesday during a USA Hockey conference call.
As successful as the U.S. women's team has been on the international stage in various competitions during the past decade, the one glaring omission has been an Olympic gold medal; the last U.S. Olympic title was at the 1998 Nagano Games.
U.S. WOMEN'S OLYMPIC ROSTER
-Alex Carpenter (Boston College, HEA)
-Kendall Coyne (Northeastern U., HEA)
-Julie Chu (Montreal Stars, CWHL)
-Brianna Decker (U. of Wisconsin, WCHA)
-Meghan Duggan (Boston Blades, CWHL)
-Lyndsey Fry (Harvard U., ECACH)
-Amanda Kessel (U. of Minnesota, WCHA)
-Hilary Knight (Boston Blades, CWHL)
-Jocelyne Lamoureux (U. of North Dakota, WCHA)
-Monique Lamoureux (U. of North Dakota, WCHA)
-Kelli Stack (Boston Blades, CWHL)
-Kacey Bellamy (Boston Blades, CWHL)
-Megan Bozek (U. of Minnesota, WCHA)
-Gigi Marvin (Boston Blades, CWHL)
-Michelle Picard (Harvard U., ECACH)
-Josephine Pucci (Harvard U., ECACH)
-Anne Schleper (Boston Blades, CWHL)
-Lee Stecklein (U. of Minnesota, WCHA)
-Brianne McLaughlin (Burlington Barracudas, CWHL)
-Molly Schaus (Boston Blades, CWHL)
-Jessie Vetter (Oregon Outlaws, GLHL)
"I think when you look at some of the players that played in Vancouver [in 2010] and the Olympic events before that, when you come up short it doesn't feel good, so we've prepared ourselves to win a gold medal," Duggan said. "Obviously you have to take one game at a time and I feel we're prepared to do that."
Canada has won the past three Olympic gold medals and the United States has won two silvers (2002, 2010) and a bronze (2006). The Americans, however, have won four of the past five World Championship golds, during which they've defeated Canada in five of the past seven games. The bottom line is that every Olympic gold or World Championship title in the history of women's hockey has been won by one of the two North American powers.
"The passion behind the rivalry with Canada is something that just fuels all of us," Duggan said. "Regardless of the outcome they are always incredible games. They are fierce competitors and so are we."
The U.S. has 11 veterans from the 2010 Olympic team on the 2014 roster, in addition to a group of young playmakers and scorers expected to play big roles.
One of those younger faces in the lineup is forward Amanda Kessel, the sister of Toronto Maple Leafs forward Phil Kessel. The 5-foot-5, 140-pound Kessel, who plays for the University of Minnesota, underwent hip surgery in the offseason but according to U.S. coach Katey Stone now is 100 percent.
The Kessels will be the first brother-sister combo to compete in the same Winter Games for the United States in ice hockey. Phil, who will play for the men's team, earned a silver medal at the 2010 Vancouver Games. Amanda, winner of the 2013 Patty Kazmaier Memorial Award as the top player in NCAA Division I women's hockey, led Minnesota to an undefeated season and the NCAA title in 2013.
Three weeks after being named the top player in women's college hockey she scored the winning goal against Canada to help the U.S. win the 2013 IIHF Women's World Championship.
"She works her tail off and competes hard and she's extremely gifted," Stone said of Kessel. "She has the physical tools and it's been wonderful to have her back in the lineup on a regular basis."
Duggan said she likes the mix of veterans and young players on the squad, which leaves for Russia on Saturday.
"I feel the veteran leadership and experience we bring to this team is huge, and I think as veterans we've taken the opportunity to share with the younger players something about the Olympics that maybe they should know going in," Duggan said. "That's nothing against how powerful our youth is. I think they bring a lot of speed and energy and excitement to our team. At this point no one is a rookie anymore. Everyone knows exactly what they need to be doing and we're prepared to face anything that comes our way. We're a team of 21 players that's ready to kind of tackle this tournament and show the world what we have."
The 21-player roster consists of three goalies, seven defensemen and 11 forwards. Forward Julie Chu, 31, will be making her fourth appearance at the Olympics. Defenseman Lee Stecklein is the youngest player at 19; she's 10 days younger than forward Alex Carpenter, whose father, Bobby, is a former NHL star. The team's average age is 23.8.
Stone, the longtime Harvard coach, is the first female coach of a U.S. Olympic hockey team.
"It's certainly an honor [to be the first female coach] but it's not something you can get caught up in," Stone said. "I look at it as a tremendous responsibility, and as I've said many times I hope I'm not the last because I think to be in this position is an incredible privilege and hopefully others will follow."
Stone said there's a lot to like about her group.
"I love how committed they are, how focused they are," she said. "They're incredibly coachable and they are a loose group; that's what makes it really fun."
The opening ceremonies are Feb. 7 and the American women begin play the following day against Finland. The Finns defeated the U.S. 3-1 in November in the Four Nations Cup behind a 58-save performance by Finnish goalie Noora Raty.
Raty, considered the best goalie in the tournament, went 38-0-0 with a 0.96 goals-against average and .956 save percentage as a senior at Minnesota last season. She was a top-three finalist for the Kazmaier Award.
"There are a lot of teams definitely bringing their 'A' game in February," U.S. defenseman Gigi Marvin said. "The Finnish goalie is great and the goalie for Switzerland [Florence Schelling] is unbelievable as well. Russia has been working well all year as a group in their own country for their game."